IAN KEVIN RAMDHANIE
Caribbean Institute for Security
and Public Safety
Independent Liberal Party (ILP) chairman Jack Warner is charging that the controversial runoff ballot provision is contained in a secret document given privately to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and was not part of the national consultations on constitutional reform.
Warner made the claim during debate on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 which started in the Lower House yesterday.
Saying that the bill is a bitter attack on third parties and will increase tribalism, he quoted Constitution Reform Commission member Dr Merle Hodge to back up his claim.
In an argument against bringing the bill to the House last week, Hodge said the runoff provision did not come from the people and was never revealed to the people before August 4, Warner told the House.
“From last Monday to this Monday we were given a document and we have to vote on it. Who were the signatories to this document? Where was the consultation process?” Warner asked.
He read from page two of the Constitution Commission Report, compiled after several national consultations, which said the House of Representatives should continue to be elected as it had been since Independence, with voters electing by the first-past-the-post method.
Warner argued that Persad-Bissessar was forced to make a concession and declare she was freeing her Cabinet ministers of collective responsibility because of the public furore against the bill. But he noted it was not a gift as she was trying to make it out to be.
“It was not a gift. It was a concession. She had to concede following the COP (Congress of the People) meeting last night (Sunday). Let her didn’t do so nah.” (YB)
The Chaguanas West MP said he asked two Cabinet ministers if they had voted for the bill and one said no and the other said he did not know.
Warner said he told them it was the death knell of their parties and a plan to subsume their political groups into the monolithic United National Congress (UNC).
“A word to the wise is enough,” he said.
Third parties are important because there are people voting up to now for the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), he said.
After a lengthy meeting with its national council members, the COP executive announced on Sunday that a motion was moved that voting on the Bill should be delayed until a proper analysis of it.
COP leader Prakash Ramadhar said then that a month was a reasonable time and was optimistic the PM would heed their request.
But yesterday, Warner said the provision about the right to recall a non-functioning MP in the bill sounded good on paper but was just a toothless tiger.
Giving examples, using the constituencies of St Augustine and Siparia in the 2010 general election, he said candidates would have to gain two-thirds of the electorate in order to remove incumbent MPs.
He said there were 25,582 registered voters in St Augustine and 19,284 cast their vote on the 2010 general election. Ramadhar, the incumbent St Augustine MP, got 15,271 votes. To take him out, a candidate will have to get 17,000-plus votes, Warner said.
He said it was important to get the courts to interpret the bill.
Interspersing his contribution with kind words for PNM members, Warner said since last July to now he has refused to eat with members of the PP Government.
“I have a coffee next door or I read a book,” he added.